After more than a decade as a professional football player, Clinton Hart saw his career finally come to an end in 2011. A brief stint in the United Football League with the Omaha Nighthawks ended, and Hart settled down in Ocala, Fla. It didn’t take long for a neighbor — a next-door neighbor — to come turn to the former NFL safety. James Tarquin had a son who was playing football, too. Michael Tarquin, an 11-year-old lineman, could surely use some pointers from an ex-pro, his father thought.
Hart kept it simple to start. The former player for the Eagles, Chargers and Rams pulled out a ladder just to get a feel for Tarquin’s skills.
There was no eureka moment on Day 1.
“He was slow-footed,” Hart told DieHards. “He was flat-footed.”
Fast forward a half-dozen years. The slow-footed, flat-footed preteen now knows he’ll be playing college football for one of the most successful programs in the country.
It took years of hard work, but Tarquin is heading to Miami. A 4-star tackle in the 247Sports composite rankings, Tarquin committed to the Hurricanes on Saturday while on an unofficial visit in Coral Gables, Fla.
— Michael Tarquin (@Mike_Tarquin70) April 21, 2018
He’s a potential left tackle of the future and an early centerpiece of Miami’s Class of 2019. He picked the Hurricanes despite significant out-of-state interest from Oklahoma and Ohio State. And he’s achieved it all by using simple polish to become the No. 1 tackle in Florida for his class.
“I’m a priority,” Tarquin told DieHards, “and they’ve been expressing that for a while.”
It was never a given Tarquin would be the sort of prospect he is now. Before he shot up to about 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds before his sophomore year at Belleview (Fla.) High School, Tarquin was just a typical Pop Warner Little Scholars lineman.
Tarquin was a defensive lineman when Hart got his hands on him and, beyond some decent size, there were no signs he’d become a blue-chip prospect. Hart, who trains athletes in Marion County, worked Tarquin as both an offensive and defensive lineman, just trying to find a potential position for him to play whenever he finished growing. Hart even tested Tarquin out as a tight end in case he didn’t fill out as an obvious lineman.
“But he was just so slow,” Hart said.
Slowly but surely, Tarquin learned to get by despite some of his athletic limitations. Hart put a sand pit in his backyard and started working with his neighbor multiple times a week. The focus was almost always on Tarquin’s footwork. He knew Tarquin would probably never run a 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, but if he could build him up mentally and technically, Tarquin would be ready to take a leap whenever a growth spurt came.
He worked on the ladder with Hart and when they weren’t working together, the former defensive back could keep an eye on his student. It felt like any time he peeked out his front door, Hart could spy Tarquin doing the drills they typically worked on together.
“If I can teach a lineman to have feet like a defensive back,” Hart said, “that’s awesome.”
This is the sort of player Tarquin has become for Belleview. The offensive lineman started every game at left tackle for the Rattlers as a junior and thrived in open space. He can hold his own working one-on-one against just about any Central Florida edge rusher, and he bullies linebackers in the second level while blocking the run.
What is perhaps most impressive, though, is when he has to block defensive backs in the screen game or as a pulling tackle. He often doesn’t even have to touch a cornerback or safety to make space — the defender simply can’t find an angle to get around Tarquin and his quick feet.
In March 2017, Tarquin’s sophomore film finally earned him an offer. South Carolina pulled the trigger first for Tarquin, who became certain he’d one day be part of the Gamecocks. Then an avalanche began. About a month later, Miami became the third school to offer. Then Clemson and Ohio State offered in May, and Oklahoma offered in September. He visited all of them and considered each school a favorite at different points.
Until March 24. Tarquin traveled back to South Florida for the first time since October for Miami’s junior day. He left Coral Gables with a plan to return Saturday and an expectation he’d commit when he made it back to Greentree Practice Fields. He gave Oklahoma one last chance to change his mind with an official visit the weekend of April 14, but it wasn’t enough. Tarquin pledged to the Hurricanes on their final day of spring practice.
“That was the plan for a little while now,” Tarquin said. “It was hard after the Oklahoma visit, but after junior day I sort of knew.”
Junior day in the Miami area meant Tarquin got a sense of just how the Hurricanes’ class would come together. He met current commits, such as 3-star guard Kingsley Eguakun, and spent the day with offensive line coach Stacy Searels, who kept selling Tarquin on what he knew all along: Miami needs tackles and Tarquin can be a foundational piece of the Hurricanes as the restock.
At Miami, the path to playing time might be a bit easier than it would have been with Oklahoma or at Ohio State. There’s still no guarantee, though. Tarquin knows he’ll have to work. For him, it’s never been a question.
“I’ve always thought just go to the school you like most. You’ll have to compete anywhere,” Tarquin said. “I’m going to work my ass off.”